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Europe – The Final Countdown

What, if anything, should we be doing about Huawei?

There is a kerfuffle here in the UK over 5G. I can’t in all honesty say that I have the slightest idea what 5G is but I surmise that it is one better than 4G. The issue is around whether the Chinese company, Huawei, should be allowed to supply some of the equipment. Lots of people, including James Delingpole say, “no”. And very few people say, “yes”.

The first question that springs to (my) mind is, what has this got to do with the government? Which I suppose is bound up with the question of what is the threat? Assuming that there is a threat and that government should be “doing something about it”, what is that something?

About the only thing I know about China and telephony is that you should never take your phone to China.

Oh, and one other thing. Guido Fawkes observed that the real scandal is that Chinese technology should prove to be better than western technology. Is this true and is it a portent?

Viruses and globalisation

The virus outbreak in China and the clampdown on travel and other activity by a Communist country is inevitably going to cause some political commentary about the implications, and it already has. One comment I am bracing for is how this proves how dangerous globalisation can be because of extended supply chains, long-haul flights, etc. In fact I expect some on the Green, anti-trade side might make such points. What the episode shows is that all advanced societies need “firebreaks” that can be imposed – hopefully by public consent for a limited period – (I mentioned firebreaks in my previous item about the Australian bushfires). There may also be lessons to come out about local food and hygiene, as well as what is done to immunise young children and so forth. This echoes what I wrote the other day about how forest fires in Australia got more deadly because the “immunity” of the forests was undermined by neglecting to do controlled burns and thin out dead trees.

But it is wrong in a broader sense to say that viruses are a point against greater human interaction via trade in general. One might as well draw the conclusion that we should all live in sealed boxes. When the Black Death raged, it killed a huge number in relative terms of the population in affected areas, and other plagues in early history have been as deadly, and yet most people at the time did not travel far from home. Some did of course, and human cities were dirty and unsanitary. But overall, the world of the 14th Century wasn’t as globalised in terms of human interaction as it is now.

Let’s not forget that trade also increases options when a population is hit by a local disaster. Take the case of food supply if the local produce goes wrong. Lack of imported food access was fatal for Ireland in the 1840s because Corn Laws hampered imports of wheat into the country.

It is true that people who even friendly to the free market economy and global trade use words such as “contagion” to describe how an issue in country X can affect a nation Y, and so on. (Some have even claimed that Chinese savings “surpluses” helped cause the 2008 financial crisis by funding the US housing binge. And writers such as James Rickards have even attempted to defend protectionism and capital controls on the same basis that one might defend a fire safety door.)

There are also implications for the effectiveness or otherwise of “transnational” organisations (aka “tranzis”), as this article at Pajamas Media states.

China is still a deeply oppressive place in many ways, and the disaster today is grim, and worrying. But bear in mind dear reader how far that nation has come since Mao, one of the greatest mass murderers in recorded history, has gone. The virus breaking out is horrible, but far less horrible than anything that bastard brought about. China is now much richer, and has the resources to tackle this plague. I wish them well.

Samizdata quote of the day

I’ve always believed that libertarian ideology should be to a well-lived life what scales are to a symphony: essential to know but not the music itself.

Jeffrey A Tucker.

I don’t know when Tucker first crafted this quote. I read it for the first time this morning when it appeared on my Twitter feed, retweeted by a Twitter followee of mine, Preston Byrne, to whom my thanks. I now follow Tucker also.

LATER: It would appear that Tucker said it this morning.

If women own their bodies they can choose to modify them

The BBC reports,

Calls for ‘virginity repair’ surgery to be banned

Campaigners are urging the government to outlaw “virginity repair” surgery.

Many Muslim women risk being outcast, or in extreme cases killed, if their spouses or families discover they have had sex before marriage.

And some are opting for a medical procedure in which doctors restore a layer of membrane at the entrance to the vagina.

But there are concerns a ban would increase the dangers to Muslim women by driving the procedure underground.

Guidelines from the General Medical Council (GMC) state a patient’s consent to undergo a procedure should come into question if it is suspected of being “given under pressure or duress exerted by another person”.

Those GMC guidelines are correct. Forcing a woman to have her hymen repaired is a serious crime, as is threatening her with violence because she had sex outside marriage to get it broken in the first place. That violent threats so often go unpunished is a national scandal.

But the fact remains that most women who go to have their hymens repaired want it done. In less drastic cases they want the procedure for such reasons as to get and keep a husband, to avoid letting their parents know that they no longer adhere to traditional Muslim mores, or to avoid a breach with their husband’s family. You may say that it is a bad thing that such crushing social pressure for a bride to be a virgin remains prevalent in some communities in the UK. But the principle that an adult human being owns their own body does not cease to apply because he or she gives in to social pressure. Plenty of women get boob jobs and bum lifts because of social pressure, too. Are these bad decisions? Possibly. Cosmetic surgery has risks. But good or bad, the decision is theirs to make.

In more drastic cases women want their hymens repaired because it is the only way to protect themselves from the twisted “honour” of their fathers and husbands. Of course no woman should have to resort to such desperate measures in order to be safe from murder. But what sort of idiocy is it to see a person taking extreme measures to protect themselves from murder and then to think the course of action that best serves justice is to prosecute the victim – or the surgeon who is helping her keep safe?

The usual sort, unfortunately.

Name me one good thing about Brexit…

Start with this:

Article 13: UK will not implement EU copyright law

Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore has said that the UK will not implement the EU Copyright Directive after the country leaves the EU.

Several companies have criticised the law, which would hold them accountable for not removing copyrighted content uploaded by users, if it is passed.

EU member states have until 7 June 2021 to implement the new reforms, but the UK will have left the EU by then.

The UK was among 19 nations that initially supported the law.

That was in its final European Council vote in April 2019.

This Samizdata post from March 2019 contains a list of links to other posts that give the background.

Samizdata quote of the day

Wearing face masks in public is presently illegal in Hong Kong and compulsory in Wuhan

Michael Jennings

Forest fires, bank bailouts and resilience

The recent massive Australian bushfires have provoked a lot of controversy, with some people claiming that this is largely driven by Man-made global warming, and others pointing to how other factors (not necessarily to the exclusion of such warming) were to blame, including changes to how forests/habitats are managed. For example, I have seen it stated that bans on “controlled burns” and clearances of woodland in the early growing seasons, are a big factor in causing this disaster.

I sense from watching reports in parts of the mainstream media that commentaries on controls on forest clearance, controlled burns and so on have tended to be few and far between. I suspect that the topic isn’t popular in those places pushing the “Man is destroying Mother Earth with C02” narrative, because it gets in the way. But surely it seems to me that such a viewpoint is counterproductive: the general public understands that firebreaks, clearances and selective thinning of woodland, etc, are part of a solution. (A firebreak is like a bulkhead in a ship.) And let’s not forget that some species of plant only germinate after a fire. Fire, in fact, is a part of agriculture. For centuries, farmers have burned certain waste vegetation, which is often good for the soil in releasing certain nutrients. A few years ago in the UK, farmers burned straw after harvest. This practice was banned in the UK in the early 90s largely because a few idiot farmers did not make wide firebreaks around their fields and in some cases, burned when there was a wind. The ash and the smoke upset people and scared a few. But one of the benefits of stubble burning was that it created a clean seed bed for crops, and farmers did not have to spend so much money and fuel cultivating the soil (which is good for the environment) or on herbicides and other chemicals (ditto).

So, controlled burns are and should be a perfectly normal part of intelligent curation of habitats and farmland, when done in a sensible way. The US-based Property and Environment Research Center, or PERC, has a good overview on this topic.

It is surely better to let things burn in a controlled way, rather than allow a whole coastal region of a continent such as Australia go up in a fireball, destroying hundreds of millions of animals and killing people. But such is the grip of this focus on the mono-causal explanation of the fires (blaming it on climate change) that little will be done, I fear. And in a way one of the things I detest most about the age in which we live is how fashionable opinion fastens itself on a simple, but often unattainable goal – eliminating all fossil fuels and hoping this achieves a result in a few thousand years – rather than taking more practical and verifiable steps to handle a situation, such as managing forests more intelligently. There is this toxic mix of virtue-signalling, State regulation bossiness and pettiness, coupled with hostility towards private sector solutions and property rights (such as allowing owners of land to cut trees and thin out brush). The result is catastrophe.

We saw the same sort of toxic brew around the financial crisis of 2008. Remember the old “too big to fail” problem? The problem of limited liability-owned banks not feeling the risk of going bust by imprudent lending? The moral hazard effects of taxpayer bailouts, deposit insurance and central bankers as lenders of last resort? State support for sub-prime lending?

There is a sort of rough analogy between a policy mix that does not allow forests to be thinned and occasionally burned in limited ways, and a banking system where a bank is never allowed to fail for the assets to be reallocated to more sensible uses. (The book Alchemists of Loss is a good summary of what went wrong inside banks and because of public policy.)

But with nature, so with finance. One needs to have “dead wood”, such as unprofitable lines of lending, to go out of business and for the distressed assets to be bought and restructured, much as an overgrown forest needs to be thinned out and for some areas to be cut back from time to time. This is about resilience or what Nicholas Taleb means by the term “anti-fragile”: without allowing things to die and be cut out and for a certain amount of disorder and turbulence, you end up creating something that will eventually go up in a firebomb, whether it be Australian landscapes or modern economies.

Has the BBC stopped putting bromide in its actors’ tea?

First it was Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes. Now actor-songwriter Laurence Fox has veered off the script as well.

A few days ago Fox appeared as the token sleb on the BBC’s political panel show Question Time. Whereupon…

Laurence Fox in racism row over Meghan Markle on Question Time (from the Daily Telegraph on YouTube)

Laurence Fox’s Best Question Time Moments: Climate, Markle, Racism and Labour Leadership (Guido Fawkes)

The entire episode of Question Time (BBC iPlayer)

It was fantastic for Mr Fox. He doubled his Twitter following overnight.

The actors’ union Equity helped spread the story by calling on actors to “unequivocally denounce” their fellow. Yes, those exact words. Equity has now backtracked, but it went to prove Mr Fox’s point.

Oh, and Lily Allen has told Fox to stick to acting “instead of ranting about things you don’t know about”.

How dare they solve our problem!

There is a fascinating article in today’s Observer, “Out of the lab and into your frying pan: the advance of cultured meat”.

(The best comment is from “Tintenfische”: “You call that cultured meat? Pah, not even close. Last week my steak took me to the ballet and a symposium on the evolution of beat poetry as seen through the eye of the beat.”)

The author of the article, Zoë Corbyn – I’ve always liked the name Zoë – describes the background:

To a certain extent, the science of culturing meat is relatively well understood. The process begins when a cell is taken from an animal and grown up in a lab to permanently establish a culture (called a cell line). The cells can come from a range of sources: biopsies of living animals, pieces of fresh meat, cell banks and even the roots of feathers, which JUST has been experimenting with. Cell lines can either be based on primary cells – for example muscle or fat cells – or on stem cells. Stem cells have the advantage that with different nutrients, or genetic modifications, they are able to mature into any cell type. There is also no limit to how long stem-cell lines can live, so it is possible to use them indefinitely to produce a product. Once a good cell line – for example, one that grows fast and is tasty – has been selected, a sample is introduced into a bioreactor, a vat of culture medium where the cells proliferate exponentially and can be harvested. The resulting meat cell mush can be formed into a plethora of unstructured items, from patties to sausages – with or without other ingredients added for texture. Conventional meat has a variety of cell types from which it derives its flavour, including both muscle and fat, and the companies are trying to broadly replicate that.

Not everybody is happy that this hoary science fiction trope seems to be on the point of commercial viability. Apparently an advertisement in the Brussels metro…

…contrasts a barn of cows surrounded by greenery to a “meat lab” surrounded by transmission towers. It is the work of the European Livestock Voice campaign – set up last year by a number of European farming industry groups to stress the potential social impacts of upending the meat industry.

Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them. The would-be purveyors of a guilt-free equivalent of meat to vegetarians are also opposed from the other side:

The website Clean Meat Hoax was launched last year by an informal group of 16 animal rights scholars and activists. It rails against cultured meat on the grounds that it still suggests that meat is desirable, and that animals are a resource people can draw on. It contrasts with the more pragmatic position other animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) have taken in favour of the technology on the grounds that animals’ lives will be saved. “What is incredible to me is how uncritically this technology is being celebrated and I don’t think that’s an accident – we don’t want to consider the possibility that we can stop eating animals,” says site founder John Sanbonmatsu, a philosopher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

“Less pragmatic than PETA”: not a concept one meets often. I think the Clean Meat Hoax people have something in common with the opponents of vaping. What really distresses them is that after all their years of exhortations to make the smokers or meat eaters repent, the jammy bastards might be enabled to cease doing the bad thing just like that, with no redeeming pain.

“With it being Asians, we can’t afford for this to be coming out.”

From the Times:

“Police chief: we ignored sex abuse of children”

Race fears stopped us acting, victim’s father told

A senior police officer admitted that his force ignored the sexual abuse of girls by Pakistani grooming gangs for decades because it was afraid of increasing “racial tensions”, a watchdog has ruled.

After a five-year investigation, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) upheld a complaint that the Rotherham officer told a missing child’s distraught father that the town “would erupt” if it was known that Asian men were routinely having sex with under-age white girls.

The chief inspector is said to have described the abuse as “P*** shagging” and to have said it had been “going on” for 30 years: “With it being Asians, we can’t afford for this to be coming out.”

His incendiary language features in a confidential report by the watchdog that upholds six complaints against South Yorkshire police by a former child victim of sexual exploitation.

But it did come out.


Some earlier Samizdata posts that are relevant:

If you do not want to see the BNP vindicated, try not proving them right

Politically correct evasiveness fails on its own terms

Want to blame someone for Rotherham? Lets start with the Guardian…

Grooming gangs in Rochdale and Rotherham raped with impunity and you won’t believe why!

You keep using that word “economy”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

“UK green economy has shrunk since 2014”, laments the Guardian.

The number of people employed in the “low carbon and renewable energy economy” declined by more than 11,000 to 235,900 between 2014 and 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Green businesses fared little better, seeing their numbers drop from an estimated 93,500 to 88,500 over the same four-year period.


Critics of the Conservative government’s record of support for the low carbon and renewables sector blamed the Treasury’s dramatic cut in subsidies to the solar power industry for the sudden loss of employment.

Solar panel installers were among the many businesses connected to the industry that went bust after the Treasury cut subsidy payments by 65% in 2015 before abolishing them altogether last year.

Obligatory “Princess Bride” clip for those benighted souls who haven’t seen it.